The web is coming to dominate news

By March 1, 2010 3 Comments

A study out today from Pew Internet tells me that the internet will soon be the major medium through which people access and consume news.  It also tells me that there is an opportunity to improve the user experience in this space.

First the growing importance of the internet:  Unsurprisingly most Americans (92%) access news via multiple platforms, and the big ones are TV, the internet, newspapers and radio.  The internet is now second behind television, and 61% of people now get some kind of news online (note that 59% of those also get some kind of news offline).

The 61% figure for internet compares with 73-76% for television (the local to national range).  That is pretty close, and the internet is the medium with momentum.  Further, news is exceptionally well packaged on TV, which is not yet the case on the web where most people use 2-5 different online news services.  As web usage and penetration continues to grow and the services get better the percentage of people getting news online will rise whilst the TV will start to fall. 

I realise I am something of an early adopter but speaking personally I get my news 80-90% from the web and 10-20% from the Financial Times with 0% from television.  Moreover, once I find a decent mobile news service which works when I’m offline in the Underground I will stop buying the FT and be 100% web access.  Only 33% of people access news on their cell phones today.

Second the opportunity to improve the user experience: Accessing 2-5 different news sites is a pain that most people would rather be without.  The way through this of course is personalisation, something which most people have not been bothered enough to do on the web for most services, to date at least – note the failure of RSS feedreaders to go mainstream.  However, according to the study 28% of internet users have customised their home page to include news on topics that interest them – a figure that surprised me on the high side – but a figure I guess will rise as it becomes easier to clip in sources you like and learning algorithms get better.

News is a social phenomenon, both in the sense that people read news so they can talk about it and in that they access it via social media sites.  Personalisation services need to reflect this fact of life – for example by picking news related Tweets out of your general Twitter stream.

As I read this post back I see that it is based on an open vision of the web where news isn’t hidden behind paywalls.  Depending on how the Murdoch-Google fight pans out I might need to think again.